Much has happened since the gathering in Atlanta in July. Some of us have begun our school year, and some of us have been able to attend a second TMC. I am beginning my third week of school with my cherished fourth and fifth graders. And still, I am thinking about my experience at TMC. Forgive me, but it has taken a while to process it all.
I am a math person. For me, that does not merely mean that I am good at math, it means that math colors the way I think. Many of us are also math people by this definition, which is why the TMC environment is so comforting – days of not having to defend or explain our math-nerdiness to others.
Yet, I don’t feel that I was able to fully let my hair down at TMC. For one, I was a first-timer, and the few people I “knew”, I only knew through Twitter. For another, I was one of a few black women, which although not an unfamiliar situation, still was not comfortable.
I found myself in the midst of the group’s internal struggle with equity and what that means. I participated in an excellent three-day workshop centered around these themes, and interacted with thoughtful educators who sincerely asked questions and displayed vulnerability. But, still, there were more educators of color clustered in this workshop than in the others. I think that matters.
Larger discussions of equity revealed a wide spectrum of positioning. And, there was a reluctance to engage, although attendance in these spaces was high. Namely, these concerns presented themselves and loomed large: the real fear of:
saying the wrong thing
being labelled as a racist
So, here are my thoughts, for what they are worth.
One session was about how to increase the diversity at future TMCs. Demographic information had been collected, and we were encouraged to analyze the statistics in order to brainstorm solutions. But the problem was quite murky in its definition. Here are some questions that I would pose to help define terms:
What is diversity?
What does diversity look like in our community and/or at TMC?
What are its indicators?
Should percentages reflect the larger math educator community?
Should percentages reflect the math Twitter community?
How will that data be obtained?
How will the diversity be achieved?
Clarify The Why
In this Common Core era, we know how important the why is. Yet, as many times as it was asked, in different forums, and by different people, this question never got answered:
Why should we be more diverse?
It is an important question which leads to others:
Should we be more diverse?
Is it okay to remain as we are?
How will we know when we’re diverse enough?
We preach to our students all the time about how the process is as important as the solution. Defining terms and digging deep to understand why is worth grappling with. Otherwise, all efforts seem inauthentic, and ultimately will not sustain new membership.
We encourage students to take risks. We tell them that mistakes are okay, good even, and that it is their failure that leads to learning. This is true for us as well.
We should not let fear of saying the wrong thing prevent us from doing the internal work on ourselves. To truly understand my perspective as a black woman, you probably should get to know me. I will not speak for my race or gender, but just me, and there are others who share my views. And some who don’t.
We have to have honest conversations. And read a lot. And risk sounding ignorant. And racist. We will make mistakes. But isn’t it worth it to learn? Isn’t this what we teach our students? Learning can be painful. Shouldn’t we model the pain of learning for students, too?
Let me be clear, TMC was an amazing experience and I learned so much mathematics from brilliant minds. And many have undoubtedly started the work in beginning to answer some of these questions. I look forward to our forward movement in mathematics and honest dialogues. I am thankful for the connections I have made. Have a great school year.
"Wow! Two kids in college!" Is a phrase I hear a lot these days. Yes, I have a rising senior daughter and a rising freshman son. I realize that this is meant as a compliment. The implication is that with so many wrong turns that could have been made, my children have "made it" past their primary and secondary school experiences, and that my husband and I have concocted the magic sauce that allowed for their success.
Am I proud of them? Of course! They both have taken different paths, but both have emerged as fine citizens, with healthy world views. They are intelligent communicators, have cultivated leadership through playing varsity and travel/club sports, and have been able to navigate past peer pressure. Yes, my husband and I were and are present and vocal through it all, and we have managed to keep them close. However, the fact that my two are in college, and away from home, is not as comforting as it should be.
You see, they are people of color. And that is a game-changer.
I have devoted my life's work to getting other young people to this very point. I teach at the elementary level, but have kept up with my students well beyond my classroom. I have attended their bar mitzvahs and homecoming games. I counsel them about their life goals and give feedback on college essays. I am their coach through many of life's challenges. This is part of who I am.
And yet, I am feeling uncertain about my own two. I no longer have the comfort of knowing where they are every minute of the day. For a parent of color, this is unsettling. I know that for all we have taught them about who they are, how to treat others, and how to protect themselves, it may not be enough. We are reminded continually of what can happen. And that, for many of us, is the reality that we live with.
Since my parenting informs my teaching, I am left to wonder how this, too, will manifest in my classroom. My evolution is demanding abandoning silence. As it cripples me, it cripples my charges. My students can affirm that I am not the teacher who claims to have all the answers. But saying nothing, skirting issues that affect all of us, is no longer acceptable.
I tell my students all the time that I will not ask them to do anything that I do not do myself. I thought that this was true, but it isn't. I ask them to take risks, yet I have few of those conversations with them. I expect them to care for one another and be a family, but I don't always push my colleagues to be better by questioning what we do and why. Pushing is ultimately an act of love. I'm not loving if I am afraid of discomfort.
I will do better. I must do better. My silence is my defeat. And theirs. And yours.
Reflecting is good for the soul. Doing so in public is terrifying and exhilarating.